Anyone might want to celebrate their life in print. Or a long-term relationship brought to a close by death. Lots of people write about their lives and their loved ones, and some pay to have their writing printed and distributed to their friends and relatives. It's called vanity publishing, but it's not very different from Antonia Fraser, say, going through her own diaries written daily during her 33-year relationship with Harold Pinter, and editing them with a few linking comments into a book published by Weidenfeld (£20). Obviously, there's the matter of fame. Her publisher will not have charged Fraser a fee to have her book printed and distributed, because lots of people know about Harold Pinter, and others about Antonia Fraser, and many will pay to read an intimate account of their lives. I'm not entirely sure why. I don't understand the national coverage of Fraser's domestic diaries, but then I still haven't got to the bottom of the attraction of celebrity biographies. Gossip, of course, is important, but Antonia Fraser is too much of a lady to gossip, rather than simply allow famous names to flutter gracefully onto each page. And although I quite see that loved ones, relatives, friends want to share memories, does it really matter to the majority of us who do not know them, how much Pinter and Fraser loved each other, or where they went on holiday? If I care about Pinter's work then I want to read a serious consideration of it, not a titivated social diary from his wife, repeatedly calling him a genius, in case we or she had forgotten.
LRB 25 February 2010 | PDF Download